Peregrine

Falco peregrinus

36-48cm

Appearance

This is a burly, strong falcon with a shortish tail and blunt, wide-based wings. The sexes are similar, although the female is larger. The upperparts are a deep blue-grey, the wings and head are dark blue, and the underparts are pale and barred. The dark markings on the white face resemble a mask or a moustache, the crown is blackish, and the legs and feet are yellow. The underwing is distinctly barred. Juveniles are brownish on top and their underparts are paler and tinged orange, while the feathers have pale tips.

Habitat

Can be found as a resident bird in Scotland, Wales, parts of Ireland and northern and southwestern England. Nesting usually takes place on rocky outcrops, coastal cliffs, and even in urban buildings. Hunting grounds are usually marshes, estuaries and farmland.

Character

When not nesting, it is mostly seen in solitude. It is extremely nimble in the air, pursuing prey with rapid wingbeats and skilful glides, then stooping down onto prey with its wings folded. May also attack from below. Wing-tips may be marginally splayed in flight, and wide wings are bowed. The spectacle of courtship aerobatics shows birds rolling and dropping from the air.

Food

Catches birds mid-flight such as Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Lapwing, Skylark, Black-headed Gull, Blackbird and Starling. Occasionally hunts mammals such as rabbits, and eats carrion when forced to by circumstances such as weather.

Breeding

Female lays 3 or 4 eggs in March and April, and she incubates them for 28-33 days with occasional help from the male. Initially the male provides the food, but as the chicks get older, the female will hunt for the family too. Young can fly after about 39 days.

Population

Birds of the region usually remain all year round. The population was at risk in the 20th century, but the monitoring of pesticide has contributed to the recovery of the species. Approximately 1500 pairs breed in the UK and up to 350 in Ireland, with numbers boosted by an influx of Scandinavian birds in the winter.

Observation Tips

These birds are spending more and more time in cities and urban settings, but they still favour rough coastline, so visits to southwest England, west Wales and Scotland are recommended.

Voice

Mostly silent, though female may produce a crescendo of 'scraa, scraa, scraa' calls if she feels threatened. The call of the male is usually higher-pitched.
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